Criminal Acts in Children's Stories.

Author:Davison, Charles

Many years ago I defended a young man on a charge of "criminal harassment". This was shortly after the federal government added this crime to our Criminal Code. The offence involves repeatedly following or communicating with another person when you know that the other person does not want to hear from you or for you to be around them. The offence also requires that the accused person know their conduct is causing the other person to be fearful for their safety or that of any other individual. My client was a student who had become enamored with a fellow student and had taken to following her around. He would also leave notes for her, even after she had clearly rejected his advances a number of times.

I remember thinking--and making it part of my sentencing argument to the judge--that a young man such as my client had likely grown up hearing popular stories with similar storylines. The message of these stories is that if a young woman at first rejects one's advances, all it takes is persistence and "she will come around". Similar modern tales portray both genders in each role, but at the time popular stories most often seemed to have the female in the role of the "pursued" and the male as the "pursuer". Popular literature and Hollywood productions are full of such stories, which almost always end with the couple getting together and, as the fairy tales put it, "living happily ever after."

Real life is not always like that though. If a "jilted" would-be suitor continues in their unwanted advances, the results may include serious legal consequences. These include being charged and prosecuted, possibly convicted and then sentenced for "criminal harassment". The punishment is often prison time. Criminal "peace bonds" and civil restraining orders may also be used to keep an individual away from the target of their attention.

This scenario--of real life not being as it is portrayed in common folklore and children's tales--is hardly a unique or isolated example. The values and morals of society at the time when many of these stories came into being are often no longer the values and morals of communities today. If we consider some of the most popular traditional children's stories and fairy tales in the context of modern Canadian criminal law, serious concerns can arise: precisely what are we teaching our children?

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